The white Cavalier blended indistinguishably into the traffic flow headed north on I-471 into Cincinnati’s downtown. The driver drummed his fingers on the steering wheel during the stop-and-go approach to the bridge across the Ohio. Fifty carlengths behind the white Chevy, an automated message center arched across the highway and told other drivers to expect sudden stops, and the helicopter pilot on the radio described it as the typical backup. He didn’t mention the driver of the white Cavalier.
For that matter, no one ever mentioned the white Cavalier’s driver, whose right hand now idly traced the stiffness of a coffee stain on the passenger seat’s gray cloth upholstery. Well, that wasn’t entirely true — occasionally he’d be sitting in the cubicle when the receptionist would ask for someone from accounts receivable to pick up line two, and if she did it twice, he’d take the call.
But that was about all. Even the girl behind the counter at the Sunoco where he bought his daily coffee would talk to the other customers as she rang him up. He liked to think that she thought of him as the coffee-with-extra-cream guy, but he didn’t really believe she thought of him at all.
There were 140 parking spaces in the company’s lot on the eastern fringe of downtown. His space was number 43 — not a low enough number to connote rank or seniority, not a nice round figure — eminently forgettable unless you knew you were supposed to park there. It could easily have been number 117.
The driver of the white Chevy yawned — he had stayed up late the night before, watching Jay Leno. Jay had talked to a member of the audience, who was named Larry and was from Schaumburg, Illinois. Occasionally, the driver had waking dreams of being Larry from Schaumburg at some other taping of Leno’s show. In the dreams, he would say exactly the right things, setting Jay up, and returning home to hear the neighbors ask him how he had been so calm on camera. “Oh, I wasn’t all that calm,” he would say. “It’s just that Jay (he could call him Jay, you know — they had been in a two-shot together) It’s just that Jay is so smooth that you can just coast along.”
But since he knew he wasn’t going to go to Los Angeles — after all, he had never been there before — and since he didn’t figure Jay would come to Cincinnati, he knew that Larry didn’t have to worry about his particular brand of competition.
An SUV’s horn interrupted his reverie; he coasted two car lengths forward. Why were there so many of those monsters on the road, anyway? Even worse, why were there so many of them in the parking lot at the Florence Mall. It made it hard to find the Cavalier in the parking lot, because when he came back out, it was always hidden between a black Suburban with tinted windows and someone else’s Grand Wagoneer.
As he crossed the bridge, he thought he saw Pangburn from marketing ahead of him in a blue Ford Explorer. The girls at the office thought Pangburn was a real cut-up, from the piano key tie he wore on casual days to the cartoon he had on his cubicle wall — did cubicles have walls — his cubicle divider? — the cartoon of a pelican trying to swallow a frog, who reached outside the pelican’s bill and had the bird by its skinny throat. The cartoon’s caption was “Don’t ever give up.” He didn’t think the girls had seen the Xerox on Pangburn’s desk that read, “The difference between rape and seduction is good salesmanship,” but maybe they had, and had just forgiven it as the excess of a go-getter. They never stopped by his cubicle, so he had never asked them. Besides, if he had, they would have just thought he was jealous of Pangburn.
He saw a break in the left-hand lane and gunned the engine, as much as you can gun a Cavalier’s engine, and slipped back and forth until he was alongside Pangburn’s Explorer. Had Pangburn seen him? Had he waved? He couldn’t tell — the angle between his seat and Pangburn’s was too steep, and the roofline got in the way.
He reached for the coffee in the pull-out cupholder above the glove box, and as he brought it toward him, a bit slopped out of the supposedly spillproof lid and left a fresh drop near the stain he had traced before. The radio news was about people he had seen that morning on the television news at sunrise, and his name wasn’t mentioned.
Really, it didn’t even matter which radio station he listened to, or which news program he watched; it wasn’t like he was a Nielsen household or anything. There could have been a certain liberation in that, in the knowledge that he could like what he wanted to like without responsibility for the consequences, but it seemed to be balanced by the fact that the shows he liked, the anchors he tuned in to see, seemed to change at least twice a year at the whims of the people who listened to the Nielsen people.
He made a right turn from the Sixth Street exit ramp onto Broadway, made another right a few blocks later, and a pair of lefts took him to the parking lot, where one more right put him in space 43. He listened to the weather forecast before he cut the engine. He got out of the car, walked around to the passenger side, and took the coffee cup in his left hand while picking up the large cloth briefcase with his right.
The briefcase was heavier than usual — those three guns, all those bullets, already arranged in clips for quick reloading. But the weight was reassuring. He’d be a star by lunchtime. He wondered if Pangburn had a radio in his cubicle.
W.S. Moore III is an Associate Professor of English at Newberry College. He’s “been putting the Evil in Medieval since 1998.” This story copyrighted and shared with TAC readers with permission of the author.